Research into animal therapy at London’s McCormick Home

A study is underway at London’s McCormick Home into the benefits of animal therapy.

Julie Casey, a social worker and animal-assisted therapy specialist, is hoping to tap into residents’ memories and better understand the fundamental reactions to animals in people with dementia in the hopes of better managing agitated behaviours.  

“Animals offer us a deeply rooted connection,” says Casey. “They awaken in us some profound emotions, memories and social connectedness that transcend any limits imposed by mental challenges.”   

Casey has frequently seen generally unresponsive people reach out to connect with the animals.  One 90-year-old resident, who rarely communicates and usually sits passively in her chair, began chatting away once she started cradling a visiting chicken.  In another example, a generally catatonic man reached out to feel the wool of a sheep as she passed by.  

The study is being conducted in partnership with King’s University College and McCormick Dementia Research, a newly founded division of the McCormick Care Group.  

“There’s been some animal therapy research done in the past, but not as much as you might think,” says Catherine Blake, research associate with McCormick Dementia Research. “We hope to be able to provide some evidence on this approach because from what I’ve already seen, it holds a lot of potential.”

In addition to behaviour management, the study is also looking at the impacts of animal interactions on reducing the need for pharmacological interventions.  

A total of 15 residents participated in the data-collection phase of the project, which took place over eight weeks last summer.  In addition to interacting with chicken and sheep, participants had the opportunity to bond with a rabbit and goat.